A new book, “Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel,” tells the absorbing story of the fabled New York hotel that has housed an excess of cultural icons — from Thomas Wolfe to Sid Vicious — through its many eras.
Sherill Tippins, author of the equally compelling “February House: The Story of W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Brooklyn,” makes elegant work of the Chelsea’s history.
Now known as the Hotel Chelsea, at 222 W. 23rd St., it’s closed to new residents and under renovation. No one yet knows what the next chapter will be.
But “Inside the Dream Palace,” on sale Dec. 3, tells of its glorious past in comprehensive detail with revealing anecdotes that brand the hotel as unique. Some of Tippins’ richest material is harvested from the famous names that made the Chelsea their home.
And there were more than a few.
In 1962, Arthur Miller, escaping the headlines in the aftermath of his divorce from Marilyn Monroe, became a hotel resident. It was there he wrote “After the Fall,” the play about his marriage to Monroe, which opened to scathing reviews.
During that time, the hotel’s legendary manager, Stanley Bard, reluctantly agreed to allow the famed writer and drinker Brendan Behan to ostensibly dry out there. Miller would visit and find Behan, flat on his back, his huge belly forming a mound, lisping through broken teeth.
On the top floor, Arthur C. Clarke was working on the “2001: A Space Odyssey” screenplay for Stanley Kubrick. The two Arthurs would break away from work to have breakfast at the Automat.
Bob Dylan rented a room near the woman he would soon secretly marry, Sara Lowndes, “and though quite famous in 1965, he would slip through the carnival-like atmosphere of the lobby unrecognized.” It was there he wrote songs for “Blonde on Blonde.” A story circulated about the night he spent passed out on the floor as his drinking buddies Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and other musicians partied on.
Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol’s nihilistic “superstar,” was soon hanging around. She had a thing for Dylan, and Warhol took it as a betrayal.
Warhol’s movie “Chelsea Girls” was inspired by the hotel, and scenes were filmed in its rooms. After Sedgwick — alienated from Warhol and her addiction deepening — made the Chelsea her home, she set her room on fire.
A bellman carried her to the lobby, where a disgusted staff left her shivering, nude under a blanket as everyone else evacuated.
One night in the late 1960s, Leonard Cohen realized the woman on the elevator next to him was Janis Joplin. He asked her, “Are you looking for someone?”
She said, “Yes, I’m looking for Kris Kristofferson?”
“Little lady, you’re in luck,” Cohen responded. “I am Kris Kristofferson.”
Joplin cackled and the two spent the night together. Cohen would later record “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” in which he referred to their “unmade bed.”
In 1967, Arthur Miller tried to warn the hotel management that one of its residents, Valerie Solanas, was a clear and present danger. The crazed woman was always lurking about demanding residents buy her pamphlet, “The SCUM Manifesto.”
Miller was ignored. Finally evicted from the hotel for failing to pay rent, Solanas took to haunting the hallways, huddling in corners. Furious that Warhol favored another Chelsea resident, the “superstar” Viva, Solanas shot Warhol at the Factory on June 3, 1968.
Patti Smith had already moved out of the Chelsea in 1970 when she fell hard for the drummer in the band Holy Modal Rounders. He introduced himself as Slim Shadow and welcomed her to his seventh-floor room with a balcony at the Chelsea. It was only after they became a couple that he revealed his true identity: He had a wife and a newborn child at home — and he was a playwright who’d won multiple Obies.
He was Sam Shepard.
Dee Dee Ramone detoxed from heroin at the Hotel Chelsea and later wrote the novel “Chelsea Horror Hotel.” But indisputably, the most famous punks to bunk at the Chelsea were Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. At that point in time, the first floor was known as the “junkies’ floor,” and after Vicious collapsed in the lobby from a drug overdose, that’s where the hotel manager moved the couple.
A bellman, responding to an anonymous call, entered room 100 on Oct. 12, 1978, and found Spungen’s blood-smeared body, in a black bra and panties, on the floor. She was lying faceup, her head under the sink. There was a knife wound in her abdomen. Spungen and Vicious had been holed up, awash in drugs and money from a rumored royalty check.
Vicious was charged with murder, but died of a seeming overdose four months later.
The question of who murdered Spungen is an ongoing controversy.
Critics accused the police of never looking past Vicious for a suspect, and not caring much about the death of a sexually provocative woman in a seedy hotel.
The deaths of Nancy and Sid were “catastrophic” for the hotel, Tippins reports. But artists such as Julian Schnabel and Francesco Clemente and musicians like Rufus Wainwright, Marianne Faithfull and Madonna still came and went.
A last, lovely detail is that Ethan Hawke and his children were given a free suite for a month after his marriage to Uma Thurman ended.
Stanley Bard provided the digs with the condition that Hawke try to get Thurman back.
Hawke later directed the 2001 movie “Chelsea Walls,” about a single day at the hotel. It had 35 characters.